Within the rapid hours after shooters killed 13 folks at Columbine Excessive Faculty, the college district referred to as the Nationwide Group for Sufferer Help in Washington, D.C., to ask for assist.
They wanted somebody to work with traumatized survivors and the households of the useless. They didn’t know the place to show.
The group advised them to search out Steve Siegel. He was already there.
Siegel had sped there as quickly as he heard the information — drawn to the tragedy by magnetic pressure, as he later put it. He didn’t go house for practically three days as he labored as a disaster crew chief.
“Ever since Columbine, over and over, I’ve been there in the midst of all of it,” Siegel mentioned.
Columbine was the primary high-profile mass tragedy that Siegel labored in his 36-year profession because the director of the Particular Applications Unit with Denver District Legal professional’s Workplace and a nationwide chief in advocating for victims’ rights.
He would go on to assist victims from practically each fashionable mass tragedy within the U.S. and create quite a few packages in Denver that will later be replicated in different cities. Your entire crime sufferer help occupation has developed quickly in Colorado and the nation throughout his profession — and due to it.
Final month, he retired. Form of.
Siegel labored on the Oklahoma Metropolis bombing trials, Sept. 11, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, the Aurora theater capturing and the Boston Marathon bombing in addition to smaller acts of violence. His job serving to others navigate the chaos of loss has been a calling and a blessing, he mentioned. Serving to victims discover emotional, monetary and religious stability comes naturally to him, he mentioned.
“For me, in the midst of that sort of disaster, issues decelerate,” he mentioned. “They change into surprisingly clear to me and what must be executed.”
He attributed this talent partially to serving to his mother look after his sickly father, who had 5 or 6 coronary heart assaults earlier than Siegel turned a teen. Ambulance calls have been frequent. Disaster was regular. He felt like he was his mother’s sidekick and helper. He discovered to hearken to her — actually pay attention — as a result of he didn’t need her to really feel alone. He discovered to consolation with silence, by merely being current.
“That’s the most important lesson that crime sufferer advocates must study,” he mentioned.
When he began within the district legal professional’s workplace in 1983, there was no grant cash for the work, little formal coaching and few legal guidelines that enumerated the rights of crime victims. However the panorama had began to shift. Formal providers began to emerge for victims. Siegel lobbied Congress to move legal guidelines to guard victims, pool cash for his or her wants and create workplaces devoted to their care. States included victims’ rights into their constitutions, together with Colorado in 1992 partially attributable to Siegel’s management.
Siegel feels blessed to have participated in what he calls the “golden years” of the motion for victims’ rights. However now it’s time for him to retire and let the subsequent era step up, he mentioned.
“It’s essential perceive that you simply forged a shadow,” he mentioned. “There’s a time when it is advisable to go away and let actually proficient folks stand out of your shadow and in their very own gentle.”
A few of Siegel’s work has flown underneath the radar, mentioned Denver District Legal professional Beth McCann, however Siegel radically altered how the workplace labored with victims.
In Denver, he created quite a few packages and introduced in additional than $100 million in grant cash to fund them and the brand new workers positions they required. He led efforts to ascertain the workplace’s chilly case unit, created a liaison place to work with sexual assault survivors, discovered cash for a workers member to guide human trafficking work in addition to for a prosecutor to specialize on home violence instances. The sufferer’s service system he created was acknowledged as a nationwide mannequin by the federal Division of Justice. He helped discovered the Denver Home Violence consortium and the Sexual Assault Interagency Council. If there’s a corporation or fee centered on victims, he’s most likely held a management place there.
When he created the workplace’s witness and sufferer safety program, he labored with longtime regulation enforcement officer Rick Harris. Collectively, they created what would change into one of the crucial revered packages within the nation.
“There’s a time period that my dad used to all the time say to me when he talked about folks he thought have been particular,” Harris mentioned, his voice breaking. “I heard my dad say it perhaps three or 4 instances. And my dad would say, ‘That’s a superb man.’ That’s what I’ll say about Steve Siegel. And I’ve by no means mentioned that about anyone however my dad.”
Siegel’s openness, empathy and authenticity created his success, his associates and colleagues mentioned. He’s the sort of particular person to hug folks he simply met and greet his associates with a kiss on the cheek. He was the “conscience and compass” of the district legal professional’s workplace, McCann mentioned.
“When the instances and circumstances name for a quiet regular hand, it’s yours we flip to,” McCann mentioned at Siegel’s retirement get together. “And when we have to push and shout, you’ve acquired the bully pulpit and bullhorn to have an effect on change.”
However even a person who sees his work as a calling can burn out. Tragedy could make anybody really feel small. Siegel determined to take a step again after responding to the capturing at Sandy Hook Elementary Faculty. He sat with the younger dad and mom of the murdered 6– and 7-year-olds and thought of his personal time as a younger mum or dad to his two daughters.
Often he might stability it with time together with his household. He would go for a stroll or discuss together with his spouse. After Sandy Hook, he couldn’t bounce again.
“I used to be the Dalmatian that went to too many fires after Sandy Hook,” he mentioned.
He determined then to cease responding instantly to incidents of mass violence. As a substitute of arriving inside hours, he began ready till after the funerals to assist native advocates and victims plan for the long run. He enjoys the work immensely and plans to proceed it, even after retirement, he mentioned.
“I’ve all the time come house — not in a corny approach — just about loving every single day of my work profession,” he mentioned.
Siegel’s retirement plans embrace enjoying guitar, extra walks together with his terrier, Dakota, and dealing on 4 or 5 nationwide tasks, with businesses equivalent to the EPA and the Division of Justice. He’s making a program for victims of environmental crimes. He’s working with the College of South Carolina to construct a useful resource middle about mass violence.
Witnessing the profound ripple impact of grief for practically 4 a long time modified Siegel. Nevertheless it by no means sunk him. He would’ve shriveled up outdoors his discipline, he mentioned.
“I’m fortunate,” he mentioned. “I’m a fortunate child.”